Ref Number: 00481
Ref Number: 00481
HMS Gladiator was a cruiser weighing 5,750 tonnes and equipped with twin screws. It had been in service for a period of 12 years and had a crew complement of 250 individuals. On the morning of April 25, 1908, under unfavourable weather conditions characterised by fog, mist, and snow, the she embarked from Portland with the destination of Portsmouth. Simultaneously, at 12:30 PM, the American mail liner St Paul, boasting a tonnage of 11,630, commenced its voyage from Southampton to New York. Both St. Paul and Gladiator closed on the Hurst Race simultaneously, during the peak of a snowstorm. The two vessels remained out of sight from one another until their proximity reached a distance of less than half a nautical mile, at which point they were both travelling directly towards each other, posing a risk of collision.
The Gladiator was observed to be travelling at a speed of 9 knots, while the vessel known as St. Paul was observed to be travelling at a speed of 13 knots. In accordance with established norms, it is generally recommended that in the event of two ships being on a collision path, both vessels should execute a sharp turn to the left, causing their bows to veer towards the right side, so facilitating a passage on the left side. However, in this particular instance, the prescribed protocol was not successfully executed. Captain Passow aboard St Paul ordered the helm hard to port, to swing the bow to starboard, however St Paul indicated ‘Going to port’. The HMS Gladiator made an erroneous assumption on the navigation of St. Paul, resulting in a sudden and significant manoeuvre to the starboard side. The bow of St Paul proceeded directly towards the cruiser, and at 2:30pm collided directly with the starboard side of the ship, resulting in the loss of several lives.
The incursion of seawater into the vessel Gladiator occurred subsequent to the creation of a breach by St. Paul. Despite the implementation of measures to secure watertight integrity, the influx of water into the ship persisted at a very concerning pace. The vessel gradually began to lean and subsequently overturned, coming to rest on its starboard side, resulting in the ejection of several individuals into the surrounding sea.
HMS Gladiator became stranded at Sconce Point, located in close proximity to Yarmouth, with a distance of only 250 yards separating it and the shoreline. A group of individuals, predominantly male, engaged in the act of immersing themselves in the water with the intention of traversing the distance to the Island. It is worth noting that these individuals were unaware of the perilous nature of the tidal current located around Sconce Point, which is recognised as being among the most hazardous along the coastline of Britain. A limited number of boats, specifically four, were deployed from the vessel Gladiator due to significant damage inflicted by St. Paul. Additionally, the vessel’s tilted position prevented the deployment of boats located on its port side. Out of the four vessels underway, one experienced instant submersion, while another managed to complete a single voyage before succumbing to sinking, resulting in the recovery of only two boats.
St. Paul was unable to provide assistance since its lifeboats were rendered inoperable owing to the snow. The ropes and pulleys responsible for the deployment of the lifeboats were rendered immobile and obstructed due to the presence of ice. The first deployment of the lifeboat was delayed for approximately 30 minutes, and upon launch, it was subsequently blown away from the individuals in the water due to the influence of wind.
Fortunately, Sconce Point served as the location of Fort Victoria, a fortification from the Victorian era that now functions as a garrison for the Royal Engineers. The fort’s gig and three dinghies were deployed in order to undertake the rescue operation of the sailors. Numerous individuals shown their bravery by wading and swimming into the frigid waters to successfully retrieve them. According to reports, Corporal Stenning is said to have successfully rescued a total of seven individuals prior to his own rescue from the water, during which he had symptoms of exposure. The ship Gladiator underwent a complete evacuation, during which a significant number of her sailors were sent to the military hospital situated in the vicinity of Golden Hill Fort for recuperation.
A total of 28 individuals, consisting of one officer and 27 enlisted personnel, perished as a result of the incident, with the majority of fatalities attributed to drowning. However, as a consequence of the rapid flow of the water, only three of the deceased individuals were recovered.
Following a period of five months, during which the vessel HMS Gladiator garnered attention from curious visitors who viewed it as a morbid tourist attraction from rented boats, the ship was subsequently disarmed and restored to its upright position. The eventual outcome was the sale of the subject for scrap at a price lower than the expenses incurred throughout the salvage operation. St. Paul subsequently returned to Southampton in order to undergo necessary repairs, following which the vessel was expeditiously restored to its optimal condition. However, it is noteworthy that St. Paul inexplicably overturned and submerged in New York Harbour on April 25, 1918, precisely a decade after the sinking of HMS Gladiator.